Hitting the Hay: Baltimore's Best Boutique Hotels

March 18, 2008


UNTIL RECENTLY, it seemed like the faux fur-upholstered headboards and Pop Arty nightclubs of the boutique hotel boom might have passed Baltimore by.

But in upcoming months and years, more than a dozen new properties are slated to open in Charm City, many of them of the artsy, quirky kind that made brands like W and Kimpton overnight sensations.

“Baltimore has a rich supply of historic buildings, which many boutique hotel brands like to convert due to their atmosphere,” says Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit group promoting commercial development in the center of town. “They don’t want to provide a cookie-cutter experience.”

We’re not sure whether this means we’ll finally get our dream Charm City hostel — a B&B shaped like a giant crab, overseen by women in “Hairspray“-style beehives — but it does signal an expanding market for accommodations as unusual as Bawlomor itself. Upcoming conversions taking older structures from creaky to chic include trendy Hotel Indigo, opening this summer in the grand, 100-plus-year-old B&O Railroad Building; and the Aloft Hotel, a new urban inn from Starwood (W’s parent company), debuting in 2010 in the Broadway Recreation Pier Building — the stand-in for police headquarters on “Homicide: Life on the Street.

Until those properties swing open their high-design lobby doors, there’s an interesting non-chain gang of spots already in town where you can temporarily hang your hat. How should you pick one? Decide which Charm City celeb — from a dead poet to a hunky politician — with whom you most identify, then get packing.

ARE YOU MARYLAND GOV. MARTIN O’MALLEY?

» You might like: The Inn at Henderson’s Wharf, 1000 Fell St.; 410-522-7777; Hendersonswharf.com

» Why? The former Baltimore mayor now shacks in the Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis. But the busy, beer-loving, rock band-fronting pol would probably like to stay close to the brew-and-live-music action in Fells Point, yet in a space soothing enough to relax in after a workweek debating business tax breaks and legalized gambling.

This rehabbed redbrick tobacco warehouse holds plush hotel rooms, some with stellar (and close-up) views of the harbor and the Domino Sugar sign, others facing a serene courtyard. The decor leans toward Savannah swanky: interior plantation shutters, glazed red jug lamps, gold damask bedspreads. Niceties — a free bottle of wine at check-in, a continental breakfast with fresh fruit, cereal and bagels (plus all-day coffee service) — make a stay here unusually comfy. Plus, the joint is shocking quiet, which would give any busy lawmaker peace to contemplate his superdelegate vote.

» Rates: $179-$329

ARE YOU EDGAR ALLEN POE?

» You might like: The 1840s Carrollton Inn, 50 Albemarle St.; 410-385-1840; 1840scarrolltoninn.com

» Why? Located in a series of just-converted 19th-century rowhouses, this over-the-top romantic B&B in the Jonestown neighborhood would likely appeal to the heart-on-his-sleeve Goth. Think poster beds (perfect for pale heroines to swoon on) and piped-in sappy music in the breakfast room. The 13 rooms and suites aren’t decorated in an 18th-century style per se, but the gilt-framed oil paintings and velvet-swagged windows — while likely to make modernists cry, “Nevermore” — wouldn’t confuse a 19th-century man of letters much.

Modern luxuries (whirlpool baths in many rooms, cushy beds) almost make up for the fact that this place can be very loud at night, due to thin-paned windows and a location near major traffic arteries and Little Italy. But you’re a wine-loving 19th-century party boy, so maybe you were up all night anyhow. A hot breakfast — omelets, blueberry pancakes, etc. — is included.

» Rates: $175-$395

ARE YOU ‘HAIRSPRAY’S’ TRACY TURNBLAD?

» You might like: Pier 5 Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave.; 410-539-2000; Thepier5.com

» Why? The busy high schooler at the heart of John Waters’ paean to 1960s B-More relishes group activities like dance contests. So, this Inner Harbor property, with its cruise-ship-like roster of stuff to do, would appeal to her. All guests can attend weeknightly “crabby hour” and learn to make crustacean crepes or dip while sipping Maryland vino. Those not content to just lounge in the brightly decorated rooms with their porthole windows can have an on-site “experience specialist” help arrange museum visits or harbor cruises.

» Rates: $249-$399


ARE YOU JADA PINKETT SMITH?

»: You might like: Celie’s Waterfront Inn, 1714 Thames St.; 410-522-2323; Celieswaterfront.com, shown right

»: Why? A buyer for Macy’s owns (and decorated) this snug Fell’s Point inn, and her clean, colorful furnishings come across as luxe and hip enough even for this stylista Hollywood insider. Red damask bedspreads, golden walls and, in some cases, fireplaces, give guest rooms a comfy, country-hip vibe.

A ship model over the mantel in the snug shared sitting room reminds guests that the property is just a block off the Harbor, and there’s a small rooftop deck that yields great views of the water. Yet somehow, Celie’s feels secluded and romantic enough that Pinkett Smith and her famous husband could probably escape the paparazzi — or the drunk frat boys — from the nearby watering holes. A continental breakfast is included.

» Rates $149-$349

ARE YOU F. SCOTT FITZGERALD?

» You and Zelda might like: 4 East Madison Inn, 4 East Madison St., 410-332-0880, 4eastmadisoninn.com, shown above

» Why? With its elegant, pocket-doored parlor and spacious, antique-filled rooms, this circa-1845 Mt. Vernon townhouse smacks of the sort of elegant existence the Jazz Age ragers, who lived in nearby Bolton Hill from 1933 to 1936, aspired to and wrote about. Scale the carved staircase — or climb into the teeny, ancient elevator — to reach bed chambers like the Classical Suite with its ornate Gothic bed.

Breakfast is included, and beginning May 16, the bucolic walled garden is open Wednesday through Friday for lunch (entrees $6-$8). (Don’t miss co-owner Sandra Lawler‘s spicy crab cakes.) Meals are served with nonalcoholic libations, but if you really want to be like F. Scott, have a cocktail a few blocks away at his former hangout, the Owl Bar (1 E. Chase St.). The men’s-clubby space boasts stained-glass windows depicting wise-old you-know-whats.

» Rates: $200-$250

Photos by Marge Ely/Express; Celie’s Waterfront Inn

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Holly J. Morris · March 18, 2008